WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown has produced a spike in detentions by deportation officers across the country during his first months in office. At the same time, arrests along the Mexican border have fallen sharply, apparently as fewer people have tried to sneak into the U.S.
Figures released by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday show Trump is delivering on his pledge to more strictly control immigration and suggest that would-be immigrants are getting the message to not even think about crossing the border illegally.
Even as border crossings decline, however, Trump continues to push for his promised wall along the border – a wall that critics say is unnecessary and a waste of cash.
The new numbers, which offer the most complete snapshot yet of immigration enforcement under Trump, show that Border Patrol arrests plunged to a 45-year low in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, with far fewer people being apprehended between official border crossings.
In all, the Border Patrol made 310,531 arrests in fiscal 2016, down 25 percent from a year earlier and the lowest level since 1971. Officials have credited that drop to Trump’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, including widely publicized arrests of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
“There’s a new recognition by would-be immigrants that the U.S. is not hanging up a welcome sign,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute think tank. She pointed to Trump’s rhetoric, as well as his policies. “I think there’s a sense that the U.S. is less hospitable.”
But Mittelstadt also stressed that the numbers are part of a larger trend that began well before Trump’s inauguration: Mexico’s improving economy and more opportunities at home have stemmed the tide of people flowing across the border for work.
“You’ve really had a realignment in migration from Mexico,” she said, noting that the numbers of Mexicans apprehended in 2017 fell by 34 percent from the previous year.
The decline in border crossings continues a trend that began during the Obama administration, and marks a dramatic drop from 2000, when more than 1.6 million people were apprehended crossing the southwest border alone.
Overall, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said, deportations over the last year dropped about 6 percent from the previous year – a number tied to the sharp decline in border crossings as well as a backlog in the immigration courts that process deportations.
But that number masks a striking uptick in arrests away from the border. Those arrests have sparked fear and anger in immigrant communities, where many worry the government is now targeting them.